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U.S. Conference of Mayors, Brookings Institution Visit Cortex to Help Cities Model St. Louis’ Innovation Success

Mayor Francis Slay and Cortex Innovation Community President Dennis Lower welcomed a group from the U.S. Conference of Mayors for a tour of the Cortex campus. Louisville Mayor Greg Fisher, who heads the Conference of Mayors’ efforts to promote innovation, said St. Louis was the top choice when the group considered which cities to visit to learn what makes an innovation community successful.

“What you all have done here is phenomenal,” said Fisher during a brief talk in the Cortex I building. “We know that cities that are focused on innovation and globalization are going to be cities that are going to be leading the country as we go forward.”

Slay spoke briefly about the evolution of the innovation community in St. Louis.

“We saw a real need for this type of space,” Slay said, referring to the creation of the Cortex campus. “Companies across America were downsizing and merging, and technology was growing. And we saw more and more entrepreneurs, people with ideas that they wanted to grow, and we wanted to keep them and their ideas in St. Louis.”

Lower thanked Slay for his continued support of the community, noting that his tenure as mayor is coming to a close this April.

“He has been a partner with us in everything that we have done,” Lower said. “We could not be standing here today without his support, his assistance, the reflection of his staff in participation in all that we’ve done.”

Fisher said other mayors might learn from Slay’s hands-on approach to building innovation hubs in their own cities.

“One of the things we’re looking at while we’re here is: What is the mayor’s role in creating innovation and entrepreneurship in a city?” Fisher said. “A great mayor is right in the middle of all that type of activity.”

Last to speak was Bruce Katz, a Centennial Scholar at the Brookings Institution.

“I can say, after looking at dozens and dozens of these, that the Cortex district is one of the most globally significant innovation districts in the world,” Katz said, adding that the district is unique in the way its institutions collaborate to compete. “That normally doesn’t happen in most cities in the U.S. and abroad. What happens is institutions focus on what they do, but they don’t really work together for the bigger whole.”

Katz also said Cortex benefited from strategic public-private partnerships.

“There’s been very, very smart public-sector activity, which has been a platform for what has happened in this city, and that’s why I think there’s something to learn here,” he said.

Katz ended his talk on an encouraging note.

“Whether you know it or not, there are many innovation districts around the world who look at what Cortex has accomplished, and say, ‘How do we replicate, adapt, and tailor the secret sauce?’”